People who become addicted to drugs or alcohol typically go through predictable stages of abuse. Understanding these stages can help you recognize a problem and seek help before substance use becomes a dependence.
Alcohol or drug use starts with experimentation or voluntary use. In this stage, the use is infrequent and, in the case of teenagers, the substance is usually obtained from and used with friends in response to peer pressure to drink or use drugs.
Older people who start to use drugs or drink heavily often do so in response to problems in their lives, such as losing a spouse or a job.
Learn more about the stages of Substance Abuse ›
All kinds of American women abuse drugs and alcohol. They may be rich or poor, young or old, urban or rural, professional or homemaker.
Addiction-related diseases kill four times as many American women as breast cancer, but it’s a health problem that rarely receives enough attention. This is critical, considering the impact it has on the woman and those around her.
“The truth is, when a woman has a substance-abuse problem, her whole family is affected because she’s often the key to family stability,” says Brenda J. Iliff. Iliff is director of clinical services at Hazelden’s Women’s Recovery Center in Center City, Minn.
Learn more about Substance Abuse ›
Most adolescents who use drugs do not become drug abusers or drug addicts in adulthood. But drug use in adolescence can put their mental, emotional, and physical health at risk. And it can put a few vulnerable kids at risk for ongoing drug abuse and addiction problems into their future.
Drug abuse means that someone uses a drug for pleasure or to get high. Drug addiction means that a person has become dependent on the drug and has no control over whether, how, or when to use it, or how much to use. Drug addiction can be physical, psychological, or both.
Learn more about Drug Use in kids ›
When a friend shows signs of abusing alcohol or other drugs, it's hard to know what to do or say.
What's scary is that drug abuse can lead to addiction. Drug abuse refers to a conscious decision to use an illegal drug or a medication in an unsafe way. Addiction means having no control over whether you are going to use the drug.
Although addiction begins with drug abuse, it doesn't mean just using a lot of drugs. Researchers have found that drugs not only interfere with normal brain functioning, but they also have a long-term effect on brain metabolism and activity. At some point, changes occur in the brain that can turn drug abuse into addiction.
Learn more about addictions ›
The main words used medically to describe substance abuse or addiction include the following:
Substance (drug) abuse (alcohol or other drugs). Substance abuse is the medical term used to describe a pattern of substance (drug) use that causes significant problems or distress, such as failure to attend work or school, substance use in dangerous situations (driving a car), substance-related legal problems, or continued substance use that interferes with friendships and/or family relationships. Substance abuse, as a recognized medical brain disorder, refers to the abuse of illegal (such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine)or legal substances (such as alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs). Alcohol is the most common legal drug of abuse.
Substance (drug) dependence. Substance dependence is the medical term used to describe abuse of drugs or alcohol that continues, even when significant problems related to their use have developed. Signs of dependence include:
Learn more about Substance Abuse ›
Tolerance to or need for increased amounts of the drug to get an effect
Withdrawal symptoms that happen if you decrease or stop using the drug that you find difficult to cut down or quit
Spending a lot of time to obtain, use, and recover from the effects of using drugs
Withdrawal from social and recreational activities
Continued use of the drug even though you are aware of the physical, psychological, and family or social problems that are caused by your ongoing drug abuse